THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands' government moved swiftly Friday to prepare legislation clearing the way for Parliament to vote on ratifying an EU-Ukraine free trade pact, despite Dutch voters rejecting the deal in a non-binding referendum.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his Cabinet was sending the legislation to the Council of State, a body that advises the government on new laws.
The swift action came less than a day after European Union leaders agreed to Rutte's request for legally binding assurances including that the pact, which has already been ratified by all other 27 member states, is not a stepping stone to EU membership and cannot be used as one in the future. The deal also does not provide a collective security guarantee or extra money for Ukraine and requires the government in Kiev to do more to counter corruption.
The bill must still be approved by the Dutch House of Representatives and Senate. Rutte says he will have to work hard to ensure it passes both chambers. His coalition has 75 of the 150 seats in the lower house and no majority in the Senate, where it will have to rely on support from pro-European opposition parties.
The prime minister, who faces a general election on March 15, acknowledged that his decision to push for ratification of the treaty despite the "No" vote of 64 percent in the April advisory referendum will not be popular among voters who rejected the Ukraine deal.
But Rutte said he believes it is in the Dutch national interest to ratify.
"It ensures that Europe can be and remain a united front against Russia's increasingly destabilizing foreign policy, and that has a direct impact on security here in the Netherlands," Rutte said during his weekly press conference in The Hague.